As if we didn’t already know Google was playing Big Brother, two separate reports published this month – one by the Associated Press and one by Digital Content Next – show that the Silicon Valley giant is tracking both Apple and Android phone user locations and activity, even when they have turned location services off.
As CNN’s Heather Kelly so eloquently reported, “short of chucking your phone into the river, shunning the internet, and learning to read paper maps again, there’s not much you can do to keep Google from collecting data about you.”
Not only are Google’s practices questionable, the company is downright deceptive, even lying to users. According to Google’s support page, “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.” The Associated Press reported that this simply is not true “Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.“
While it isn’t a surprise to us that Google tracks user locations, interests and habits for advertising and political purposes, the statistics published by DCN, written by Vanderbilt University Professor Douglas Schmidt, are quite shocking.
According to Schmidt, “a dormant, stationary Android phone (with the Chrome browser active in the background) communicated location information to Google 340 times during a 24-hour period.”
Further, “Google has the ability to associate anonymous data collected through passive means with the personal information of the user. Google makes this association largely through advertising technologies, many of which Google controls. Advertising identifiers—which are purportedly “user anonymous” and collect activity data on apps and third-party webpage visits—can get associated with a user’s real Google identity through passing of device-level identification information to Google servers by an Android device.”
With Facebook and Twitter shouldering most of the criticism these days over their rampant censorship of conservative voices, it can be easy to forget about Google, one of the most influential actors with the deepest pockets in Silicon Valley that is trying to influence policy in Washington.
Knowing that Facebook, Google, Twitter and other Silicon Valley tech giants are manipulating user data without explicit consent for political, social and monetary gain, it is shocking that our representatives in Washington are considering a Congressional Review Act (CRA) that would allow these companies to regulate themselves.
Congress needs to strike down the current Net Neutrality CRA and instead work on legislation that puts consumers first and protects our privacy and freedom of speech.